Parky At the Pictures (27/11/2020)
(Reviews of Concrete Plans; Top End Wedding; Totally Under Control; Billie; Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful; and Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story)
The majority of cinemas may be closed during these enduringly dismal days. And who, in all honesty is that big a film fan that they would risk contracting a contagious disease just to see something on the big screen as part of a well-spaced crowd? There are still ways to connect with some of the films on general release during Lockdown 2, however. In addition to Curzon Home Cinema. MUBI and the BFI Player, it should also be possible to access the titles under discussion below via iTunes, Apple TV, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin, Microsoft, Vimeo, Google Play, Rakuten, BT and Playstation.
Having followed the Brighton hip hop documentary, South Coast (2008), with the short, Man in Fear (2011), writer-director Will Jewell graduates to features with Concrete Plans. Tapping into the state of the nation ethos perfected by such anti-Thatcherite TV series as The Boys From the Blackstuff (1980-82) and Auf Widersehen, Pet (1983-2004), this is a canny treatise on the divisions in pre-Covid Britain. The word `Brexit' isn't mentioned once, but its impact is evident in every class-envious aspersion and casually racist insult.
From the opening shot of a screwdriver lying in a pool of blood, it's obvious that things have not turned out well at the North Wales manor where Simon Hagerty (Kevin Guthrie) is hoping to renovate the farm buildings abutting his remote manor on the cheap. A former soldier who has recently inherited the property from his father, Simon is a short-fused Scot with an over-developed sense of self-importance. Girlfriend Amy (Amber Rose Revah) is used to his insistence on respect and obedience, but the builders he has hired find his dismissive attitude hard to take.
Bob (Steve Spiers) has spent years developing his business, but is sufficiently feeling the pinch to accept a dubious three-month job that promises both cash in hand and a completion bonus. In addition to his surly nephew, Steve (Charley Palmer Rothwell), Bob has recruited Welsh veteran Dave (William Thomas), illegal Ukrainian immigrant Viktor (Goran Bogdan) and Jim (Chris Reilly), another fiery Scot who has no record in the trade and appears to have something to hide. He is the first to complain when Simon reveals that he would prefer the workers to sleep in bunks in a draughty caravan than in the cosy barn. But he recognises that his patrician compatriot won't stand for insubordination and suggests they make the best of things.
Simon has been informed by his financial adviser, Richard (James Lance), that he risks being investigated for tax evasion because the family fortune is tied up with an offshore Cayman account. So, he tells Bob that his workers will have to be patient over payment because he's having cash flow problems because of a stock issue. The crew take some persuading to accept the situation and their spirits are somewhat buoyed when Simon comes to the caravan with an expensive bottle of wine and Viktor takes £100 off him in a game of poker.
While hiding a package in the undercarriage of the caravan, Viktor overhears Jim telling a phone friend that he is laying low following a crime and will disappear once he's received his pay. Realising that the Scot is dangerous, he refuses to react to the cheap cracks that he and Steve keep making and focuses on making a decent sum to send back to the daughter who is living with his mother. Amy takes a shine to Viktor, but knows Simon is the jealous type and tries to keep her distance. However, they almost kiss after bumping into each other beside the nearby lake while Amy was out jogging and Viktor was calling home.
However, it's another phone conversation that prompts Jim and Steve to administer a punishment beating after they overhear Simon planning to do a flit without paying them. Having used a drill to persuade him into divulging the password for his bank account. the pair dump him in a concrete pit and inform the returning Amy that he has run out on them all. With Viktor locked in the outside toilet, Amy plays along with the builders, even after she sees blood spattered up an outhouse wall. Fearing that matters will spiral out of control, Bob tries to reason with his nephew. But Steve will only listen to Jim, who needs the others to trust him when they find a sizeable sum of cash in Simon's safe.
Naturally, however, honour proves to be in short supply among these accidental thieves and carnage duly ensues, as Jewell springs a neat, if not entirely unexpected twist. He allows the situation to develop steadily so that he can explore the tensions between the builders. But, even though they are well cast and admirably played, the characters are sketchily drawn, with Simon being given no redeeming features as the shifty patrician and Jim being equally reprehensible once he scents easy loot. The speed with which the confrontation escalates is also unpersuasive, while too much of the dialogue rings hollow.
Jim's suggestion that they play cards to see who takes the rap for killing Simon is one of a number of contrivances that Jewell just about gets away with. But the Amy-Viktor romance never rings true and it's interesting that the illegal immigrant is a white European rather than an African or someone from the Middle East. Indeed, Jewell opts to leave the thriller's political aspect as subtext. although Jim's threat to shop his co-workers unless they go along with his scheme deftly sums up the pitfalls of the UK's shadow economy.
Jewell and cinematographer Rachel Clark do a tidy job in capturing the sense of isolation, while production designer Stephen Nicholas capably contrasts the living conditions of the haves and the have-nots. Dom Corbisiero's sound mix is similarly effective, as is the score by Orbital's Paul Hartnoll. Let's hope Jewell doesn't have to wait too long before he can make his sophomore outing, as he is he is clearly a director who is unafraid of getting some dirt under his fingernails.
TOP END WEDDING.
Aboriginal Australian director Wayne Blair is better known in this country for The Sapphires (2013) than he is for Septembers of Shiraz (2015). But he may well attract his biggest audience with Top End Wedding, which eventually serves as much as a summation rather than a revision of traditional matrimonial movie tropes. Before we get to the big day, however, co-writers Joshua Tyler and Miranda Tapsell seem intent on exploiting this rare cinematic excursion to the Northern Territory to celebrate its Indigenous culture and boost tourist numbers.
Way back in 1976, Daphne Ford (Brooklyn Doomadgee) fled an arranged marriage in the Tiwi Islands and took a speedboat to the mainland to avoid her furious relations. Now, `Daffy' (Ursula Yovich) has gone missing just as daughter Lauren (Miranda Tapsell) is planning her wedding to Adelaide lawyer Ned (Gwilym Lee). Father Trevor (Travis Jeffrey) has no idea where his wife has gone and Lauren decides to head north from Darwin to find her mother and leaves the wedding planning in the hands of her workaholic boss, Ms Hampton (Kerry Fox).
When not locking himself in a cupboard and sobbing along to Chicago's `If You Leave Me Now', Trevor confides in Hampton about his marital woes, while she reflects on a broken romance in her past, She also gets the wedding ball rolling with the help of bridesmaids Ronelle (Shari Sebbens), Kailah (Dalara Williams) and Dana (Elaine Crombie). Meanwhile, Lauren and Ned keep narrowly missing Daffy on the road between Kakadu and Katherine, as they discover she has been consorting with a faux French helicopter pilot, a pair of dope-smoking tourists and her cop nephew.
Realising how little show knows about her mother's past and her Tiwi heritage, Lauren decides to cross to the islands. However, she discovers that Ned has chucked his detested job and she is so furious with him for not consulting her about his hope to become a chef that she cancels the wedding. Landing in Nguiu, Lauren meets her Uncle Foxxy (Jason Desantis) and grandparents, Macarius (Bernard Tipiloura) and Eugenia (Lynette Marie Johnson) and is relieved to learn that Daffy is fine and just needed to reconnect with the loved ones she hasn't seen in 44 years.
Mother and daughter have a heart to heart and Lauren calls Ned to let him know that the ceremony is back on. However, the venue has changed and a relieved Ned has to collect Trevor, the bridesmaids, Cher the dog and Hampton, who is persuaded to take an extra day off work to witness the Tiwi happy ever ending.
The final snapshot montage nudges the picture into cornball country, but it also binds it closer to all those other wedding movies that have proved irresistible down the years. This isn't in the same class as PJ Hogan's Muriel's Wedding (1994) or Stephan Elliott's A Few Best Men (2011), if only because the Darwin and Nguiu segments feel rather tacked on to the central road trip. However, debuting cinematographer Eric Murray Lui ensures that both Northern Territory and the Tiwi Islands look magnificent, even though scenes like the outdoor picnic seem to have been designed to satisfy the local tourist board rather than advance the plot.
Nevertheless, Miranda Tapsell and Gwilym Lee make an agreeable couple, with their amusing disparity in height atoning for the fact that Lauren and Ned remain rather two-dimensional. As the reason for the trek through the bush, Ursula Yovich arrives too late to make much of an emotional impression, although Huw Higginson more than compensates as the handsome hunk gone to seed who blames himself for keeping his wife away from her kinfolk. His scenes with the ever-dependable Kerry Fox are splendid, although Tapsell and Tyler might have found something more for her to do instead of cluttering the place up with vociferous, but vacuous bridesmaids. Similarly, the depiction of the Tiwi dwellers is rather twee, while the discussion of the island culture that is supposed to be so important to Daffy and Lauren is disappointingly limited to a handful of songs and a communal dance.
TOTALLY UNDER CONTROL.
Things have changed rapidly since Alex Gibney and co-directors Suzanne Hillinger and Ophelia Harutyunyan signed off Totally Under Control. They just managed to squeeze in a caption revealing that Donald J. Trump had tested positive for coronavirus. But the need to release this documentary chronicle of the president's (mis)handling of the the Covid-19 crisis before the election means that it is not able to record that Joe Biden ousted the incompetent incumbent a matter of days before news came of the first successful US vaccine trials. The Germans have a word for it, but the various experts assembled to assess Trump's pandemic performance are too saddened and dismayed to revel in any schadenfreude.
The Koreans have their own term. But there's no trace of `gosohada' in the testimony given by Dr Kim Jon-Yong from the Infectious Disease unit at Incheon Medical Centre or Victoria Kim, the Seoul Correspondent of the Los Angeles Times, as they outline how South Korea managed the virus through social distancing and track-and-trace initiatives that were resisted by a White House that was too busy boosting the economy ahead of the November election to pause and digest the full import of the increasingly alarming stories emerging around the turn of the year from the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Such is Gibney's determination to point a finger squarely at the occupant of the Oval Office that he has gone to extraordinary lengths to show how safely he filmed the talking heads, using sanitised camera equipment, local cinematographers and protective plastic shields. The effort is rewarded with plenty of damning assertions and accusations that make it clear that Trump and his team were not only out of their depth, but also derelictory in their duty after opting to politicise the pandemic in seeking to damn the Democrats and a highly critical media.
Among those in Gibney's cross-hairs are Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, Robert R. Redfield, the Director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and Vice-President Mike Pence, who chose to go along with Trump's dismissal of persuasive science and persisted in parroting the slur that Covid was a `Chinese virus'. Rick Bright, the former director of the BARDA biomedical laboratory, accuses himself of not doing enough, but insists in mitigation that it is next to impossible to speak out in this egotistical and vindictive administration,
Joining him in despairing at Trump's ignorance and intransigence are former HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius; Taison Bell, director of the University of Virginia Intensive Care Unit; applied mathematician Eva Lee; Alex Greninger, Assistant Director of Clinical Virology at the University of Washington; Scott Becker, the CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories; medical supplies manufacturer Michael Bowen; New York Times reporter Michael Shear; and Max Kennedy, the grandson of Bobby Kennedy who was a volunteer in the Coronavirus Supply Chain Task Force that was set up under the president's unqualified son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
This is an ongoing story and new facts (whatever they are these days) will undoubtedly emerge from the morass of fake news. Moreover, Gibney, Hillinger and Harutyunyan were clearly more intent on shaping opinion prior to an election than they were in providing a definitive record of the disease's impact upon the United States. But they do enough to expose Trump's badly bungled response and leave those in places like Britain to wonder who will similarly lay bare the often shambolic efforts of Boris Johnson and his key ministers and advisers to reassure a nation that knew from the outset that they were flounderingly winging it while their Korean counterparts were following a preordained plan.
Jazz is full of sad stories and few are more tragic than that of Billie Holiday. But her would-be biographer, Linda Lipnack Kuehl, also met with an unhappy end, as James Erskine reveals in his documentary, Billie. Surprisingly, this appears to be the first extended cine-study since Don St James's A Salute to Billie Holiday (1979), although Diana Ross earned an Oscar nomination for Sidney J. Furie's Lady Sings the Blues (1972), which was based on Holiday's 1956 autobiography. Yet, while Erskine also has some remarkable resources at his disposal, he doesn't quite reconcile how the tell two tales in one narrative.
Indeed, Erskine gets off to a poor start, as he skirts much of the detail of Holiday's anguished childhood. Born Eleanora Fagan in Philadelphia on 7 April 1915, she spent many of her formative years in Baltimore in the care of relatives after her guitarist father, Clarence, abandoned her teenage mother, Sadie. In an audio interview, Holiday explains how a recollection of Sadie refusing to give her money had inspired her celebrated song, `God Bless the Child'.
Speaking to Kuehl, cousin John Fagan and childhood friend Mary `Pony' Kane admit that Holiday `turned tricks' at an early age and seemed to like being roughed up by strong men. Going further, pimp Skinny Davenport suggests she had something of the devil in her and wore the black eyes he gave her like a badge of honour. In fact, after leaving school at the age of 11, Billie joined Sadie at a Harlem brothel and they both endured prison terms as a consequence. Moreover, Holiday was also taken into protective custody after being raped by a neighbour. This ordeal is later referenced on one of the 125 cassette tapes that Kuehl amassed during her eight-year attempt to write a definitive biography that demonstrated that Holiday was anything but the victim she had often been presented as being.
While in the bordello, Holiday had heard the music of Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong and she started singing at a club called The Hot-Cha in Harlem. Dancer Detroit Red recalls parties of smart white people flocking to this kind of after-hours joint during Prohibition for some risqué music and a good time. Detroit confides that she and Billie made tips by prostituting themselves and notes that her friend was fond of the odd reefer.
Entertainer Pigmeat Markham claims to have discovered Holiday and reminisces about her debut at Harlem's fabled Apollo Theatre, when clouds of reefer smoke hung in the green spotlight being shone on her. From the outset, Holiday wanted to break the mould by singing in the same way that Louis Armstrong played the trumpet and we see a clip of them performing together on "The Blues Are Brewin'", from Arthur Lubin's 1947 feature, New Orleans.
Music producer John Hammond took credit for introducing Holiday to the sophisticated crowd in February 1933 and boasts that he got her a chance to record with Benny Goodman, whom he accuses of taking advantage of the first non-white musician he had ever worked with. However, roommate Ruby Davis confides that Holiday also had lesbian affairs because her mother had warned her off men because she had so let down by her father. Bandmate Sandy Williams tells Kuehl that Clarence was a decent enough fellow who was usually happy in his cups. His daughter also liked to party, but friend Irene Kitchings reveals that she started using cocaine after pimp Jimmy Monroe broke up her relationship with pianist Sonny White and became her first husband.
In 1937, the 22 year-old Billie joined Count Basie's band, where saxophonist Lester Young nicknamed her `Lady Day'. Trumpeter Harry `Sweets' Edison remembers the hardships of touring in a bus when Holiday was the only woman. He also comments on how segregation in the South made things even more difficult, as Holiday was forced to blacken her face so that she couldn't be mistaken for white. Drummer Jo Jones insists that John Hammond had Holiday fired from Basie's band because she wouldn't sing the blues and he didn't think she was making enough money. Hammond denies this to Kuehl, but Jones insists that Hammond was one of the many people in Holiday's life who exploited her.
Holiday was a great admirer of Billy Eckstine and Erskine cuts in footage of his appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, when he joked about Paul Whiteman being dubbed `The King of Jazz' and Goodman being `The King of Swing' when they were white and jazz was a black person's music. He also accuses Tom Jones of what would now be called cultural appropriation in stating that he stole his style from singers like Otis Redding. The point is well made, but neither Kuehl nor Erskine get to the bottom of the Hammond mystery and whether he was a positive or a negative force on her life.
On leaving Basie, Holiday joined Artie Shaw's band and bassist Sid Weiss and friend Mae Weiss remember the racial problems she encountered on the road. Guitarist Al Avola and clarinetist Les Robinson recall incidents when she was denied access to hotels and had to sleep on the bus. When the Lincoln Hotel in New York wouldn't let her sing, she quit and Shaw did little to defend her.
At this juncture, Erskine includes colour (or is it colorised?) footage of Holiday singing `Strange Fruit'. Producer Milt Gabler recalls Columbia giving him permission to record the song in 1939, while guitarist Barney Kessel reflects on how deeply she felt its provocative lyrics. Cafe Society owner Barney Josephson reveals that Time magazine called it the strangest song ever to be heard in a nightclub and remembers entire parties of white patrons leaving in protest whenever Holiday performed it. But Charles Mingus celebrates its power and the courage it took for her to stand alone on the stage and confront the bigotry it denounced.
The lynching references didn't go unnoticed in high places, however, and Harry J. Anslinger from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics identified Holiday as a target when he declared War on Dope. Pianist Jimmy Rowles states she was a very sensual woman and, as we see her singing `Fine and Mellow' with Lester Young, he avers she sometimes sang from her crotch, as it was impossible to divorce her music from her sex life.
One of her beaux was bassist John Simmons, who told Kuehl that Holiday was `a sex machine'. Erskine alludes to her relationship with Broadway actress Tallulah Bankhead. Another lover, drummer Roy Harte and friend Sylvia Syms recall the bar being packed with hero-worshipping male fans hoping that Holiday would take them home. Comedian James `Stump' Cross concurs that she was a party girl and pianist Bobby Tucker backs up the rumours of her pot, cocaine and heroin use by confirming that Billie loved to get high.
Her lifestyle led to her being tailed by narcotics agent Jimmy Fletcher, who tells Kuehl in a taped interview that Anslinger had told him that Holiday's manager, Joe Glaser, was prepared to co-operate in a case against her because he felt it was the only way he could prevent her from killing herself. Fletcher explains how she used drummer Joe Guy to score for her and send the drugs to the Braddock Hotel in the collar of her boxer dog. In 1947, however, the Philadelphia police shot at Holiday's car after her chauffeur had sped her away when she was supposedly in possession. She was busted the next morning and sentenced to a year and a day and Fletcher is in no doubt that she was targeted to enhance Anslinger's reputation as a tough guy.
Holiday served her time in the segregated Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia, where warden's secretary Virginia McGlocklen and correctional officer Jean Allen remember how humble she was. On leaving jail, she teamed with pianist Bobby Tucker to close an all-star show at Carnegie Hall. Yet we also hear a radio interview of Holiday doubting that she has the voice of a true artist. As we see a clip of `My Man', we learn she had a liaison with married manager John Levy, who is considered beneath contempt by friend Maria Bryant, while Tucker accuses him of being a parasite who beat her. They also speculate about the fact that Holiday had a masochistic streak, as she always seemed to pick men who were bad for her.
Trombonist Melba Liston recalls Billie giving as good as she got during rows with Levy on tour. But Agent Fletcher reveals that he had been an informer since 1934 and exacted his revenge by having Holiday busted in San Francisco. Agent George H. White describes the raid at her hotel, which also saw Levy being arrested. However, only Holiday was indicted and she had to be examined by psychiatrist James Hamilton to evaluate the level of her addiction. He concluded that Holiday was a psychopath, as she couldn't resist acting on impulse. Kuehl had asked whether such behaviour was rooted in Billie's past and admitted that she identified herself with some of its characteristics.
Linda's sister, Myra Luftman, reveals that she was a public high school teacher from the Bronx who had started writing magazine articles about women in the arts in the 1960s. She had become fixated with Holiday after buying a greatest hits album and shared her habit of choosing the wrong men. Indeed, she had been through two husbands and may well have had a fling during her researches with Count Basie, whom she called Bill.
In 1954, Holiday fulfilled a dream by touring Europe and we see footage of her singing `I Only Have Eyes For You', as we learn that she was now involved with Louis McKay, who would become her manager and her second husband. She hoped to settle down and raise adopted orphans on a farm, but McKay was only after her money. Pianist Memry Midgett remembers him beating Holiday after a momentous concert at Carnegie Hall and being surprised by how much she seemed to need such treatment. Lawyer Earl Zaidins told Kuehl that McKay was dangerous and refused to speak on tape about the violence to which Holiday was subjected.
On another cassette, conductor Ray Ellis expresses his delight at having being asked to work on a Holiday album and bassist Milt Hinton reveals he took copious pictures of the sessions. He claims the one of Billie leaning forward on her stool clutching a glass of vodka had the `shadow of death' on it. But she still insisted on going her own way and told one radio interviewer that her lyrics to `Don't Explain' meant a lot to her because they were so personal. Midgett explains that Holiday was worried that God wouldn't forgive her for her misdemeanours and used drugs as a way of punishing herself. Friend Ruby Davies reveals that Billie had confided that she was raped as a young girl and Maria Bryant laments that she always had the air of a vulnerable child.
Shortly before she died, Holiday filed for divorce from McKay, but died before she could sign the papers. Consequently, he inherited everything. Jo Jones suggests she wanted to die and blames the hospital for not doing enough to protect her after the press had reported that she had been caught with heroin on the ward. Friend Dorothy Winston says Holiday had told her she couldn't face another drug case and Jones curses the United States for being intimidated by black success that it drove successful African Americans to an early grave.
We see Holiday singing `I Love You Porgy' in colour footage from her last TV appearance in London on 18 March 1959. During one of her last radio interviews, she had been asked why so many jazz greats died young and had suspected it was because they had all tried `to live 100 days in one day'. On 17 July 1959, she succumbed to heart failure. She was just 44 years old and had a mere $750 to her name.
As Jo Jones spits out his justifiable fury about prejudice in American society, an accompanying montage clumsily includes footage of Donald Trump's supporters marching through the streets. This is an avoidable misstep in an otherwise compelling exposé that concludes by hinting that Kuehl might have been the victim of foul play. Myra reveals that her sister was regularly threatened while working on the book by those who didn't want the truth to emerge. She had conducted her final interview in November 1977 and was having trouble corralling her material. But Myra has no doubt that Kuehl was pushed from her window on 6 February 1978. The official record states suicide, but Myra notes that Linda was wearing the face mask she always wore to bed and was excited about the prospect of seeing Basie's band in concert.
A closing caption reveals that lost documents mean that it will never be possible to discover how Linda Lipnack Kuehl died. But her story is understandably overshadowed by that of Billie Holiday and Erskine struggles throughout to incorporate Myra's interjections and close-up reconstructions of Linda tapping on her typewriter. This is a shame, as the film would not have been possible without her unique recorded archive and it's to the credit of Erskine and editor Avdhesh Mohla that her hard work has finally been rewarded.
By focusing on the taped material, however, the film leaves large areas of Holiday's life and career uncovered. There's very little about her recorded legacy or the critical reaction to it. Similarly, with the notable exception of Count Basie, we only see Billie through the eyes of what have to be called bit players. Tony Bennett had told Kuehl that he was curious to learn what made someone like Holiday behave the way she did. But neither she not Erskine manage to get to the bottom of the masochism or the drug taking, even though it seems clear that her troubled youth left numerous unhealed scars.
Despite utilising clips from New Orleans, Erskine doesn't discuss how the studio was coerced into cutting footage to avoid giving the impression that black musicians had invented jazz. Moreover, as there doesn't appear to have been anything interesting on the Kuehl tapes about Holiday's dealings with record companies, there's next to no discussion of her albums and her standing as a singer.
Director Lee Daniels is currently working on a biopic about the drug busts and we should get to see Andra Day in The United States vs Billie Holiday some time next year. In the meantime, Erskine has provided a serviceable introduction in demonstrating that he has more strings to his bow than sporting profiles. Let's hope it sends viewers in search of the music by which it will always be the best way to remember Billie Holiday.
HELMUT NEWTON: THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.
Photographer Helmut Newton is buried three plots along from Marlene Dietrich at the Städtischer Friedhof III in Berlin. Considering he died in 2004, after suffering a heart attack at the wheel near Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard, he feels vibrantly present in Gero von Boehm's centennial documentary, Helmut Newton: The Bad and the Beautiful. Despite riffing on the title of Vincente Minnelli's Oscar-winning 1952 exposé of the studio system, however, this is anything but a hatchet job, as Von Boehm assembles some of Newton's most famous sitters to counter accusations that he was an exploitative macho misogynist.
Born in Berlin in 1920, the son of a button maker, Helmut Neustädter was very much a child of the Weimar Republic. Indeed, the transgressive nature of the art of Max Beckmann, Otto Dix and George Grosz can be seen in his photographs. However, he also acknowledged the influence of Leni Riefenstahl, the director of such pro-Nazi documentaries as The Triumph of the Will (1935), who also presented stylised visions of physical beauty in her record of the 1936 Berlin Games, Olympia. Perhaps more significantly, he spent two years working for Elsie Neuländer Simon, who used the name Yva in becoming one of the first fashion photographers.
She would perish in the Majdanek concentration camp in 1942 and, as fellow Jew, Newton also had much to fear in the Third Reich. Questioning the concept of the `Good German' he passingly mentions the kindness of those who had sheltered him before detailing his 1938 flight from Trieste and Singapore before recalling his relief on reaching Australia. Here, he became a British citizen and changed his name to Newton. He also married June Browne, who became his rock, while also pursuing careers as an actress and as a photographer under the names June Brunell and Alice Springs.
Having opened a studio in Melbourne in 1946, Newton got his big break when Vogue did a shoot Down Under and he was offered a 12-month contract in London. As Anna Wintour reveals, the magazine would remain his base for the remainder of his career and she defends him from accusations of tasteless smut by highlighting the wry wit and narrative depth of his imagery. Newton himself always claimed to be a `naughty boy'. But feminist pioneer Susan Sontag had no difficulty in branding him a misogynist on a French chat show and it's interesting to note that all of the famous faces Von Boehm interviews elect to avoid tackling this epithet head-on in praising him for his courtesy on the set and the sense of empowerment that his pictures generated.
Models Sylvia Gobbel, Nadja Auermann, Claudia Schiffer and Arja Toyryla concur with magazine editors Phyllis Posnick and Carla Sozzani, singers Grace Jones and Marianne Faithfull, and actresses Isabella Rossellini, Charlotte Rampling and Hanna Schygulla in acquitting Newton of all charges of exploitation. In reminiscing about a famous shoot with then-lover Dolph Lundgren, Jones jokes about Newton turning her down several times because he thought her breasts were too small. Rampling similarly insists that a celebrated 1973 nude session did much to teach her about herself, But, while lauding his eye and mastery of subtext, Rossellini concedes that images like the one in which director David Lynch is almost treating her like a puppet came close to crossing the line.
Shots of one naked woman on all fours on bed with a saddle on her back and another being half-devoured by a giant stuffed alligator go way beyond what would be acceptable in today's woke climate of cancel culture. But such snaps avoid censure, as Von Boehm steers his study away from the austere eroticism of Newton's valkyric nudes towards his relationship with his wife. June admits to the odd bump in the road, but home movies and pictures from a dual exhibition carefully create an impression of domestic bliss that is used to reinforce the argument that Newton was always a gentleman during a shoot because June was invariably lingering in the background to advise him.
They may not quite come across as photography's John and Yoko, but June's shot of Helmut sitting cross-legged in a big-brimmed hat and high heels seems to confirm that the Newtons seem to have enjoyed the creative and romantic aspects of their relationship. Despite the considered testimony of the various sitters that Newton was a provocateur who reflected and commented upon society, Von Boehm singularly fails to counter the critics who denounced him as an enabler of the male gaze. Moreover, he avoids any discussion of either Newton's artistic status or aesthetic legacy, even though his visual and storytelling influence can still be seen in modern fashion photography, What remains is an engaging, if mannered portrait of an octogenarian who continued to love life right up to the moment it was taken away from him in the shadow of the Chateau Marmont, where he had wintered every year since 1957.
LENNOX LEWIS: THE UNTOLD STORY.
Lacking the mystique of Rocky Marciano and the charisma of Muhammad Ali, Lennox Lewis is usually considered the least of the three boxers who managed to retire as the reining World Heavyweight Champion. But documentarists Rick Lazes and Seth Koch do their darnedest to give the London-born, Canadian-raised and Jamaican-based fighter his due in Lennox Lewis: The Untold Story. Narrated by Dr Dre, this is clearly an officially sanctioned portrait.
Born in West Ham in 1965, Lennox Lewis never knew his father and spent some time away from his Jamaican mother, Violet, after she emigrated to Canada to find work. He left for Kitchener in 1977 and the film makes much of the fact that he was spared the everyday racism that would eventually spark the 1981 Brixton riots. It also points out that when he did get into trouble with the law, he was entrusted to the boxing gym run by Arnie Boehm, who became something of a father figure.
Childhood friends Andy Powis, Bernita Drenth and Courtney Shand (who would become Lewis's fitness trainer) join with high school coach Gene Heesaker in praising the teenager's athletic prowess on the football field and basketball court. But Boehm ensured that Lewis caught the boxing bug and he hooked him up with coach Adrian Teodorescu en route to representing Canada at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, when Lewis was defeated in the quarter-finals by American Tyrell Biggs. Rather than turn professional, however, Lewis remained in the amateur ranks and took the heavyweight gold medal at the 1988 Games in Seoul.
Returning to Britain, Lewis joined forces with promoter Frank Maloney (billed somewhat cynically as `a man with a deep secret'), who allowed him to wreak his revenge on Biggs before a victory over Donovan `Razor' Ruddock made him the mandatory challenger to WBC champion Riddick Bowe. He dumped his belt in a dustbin in refusing to fight Lewis, who was declared the first British heavyweight champion of the 20th century on 14 December 1992. Following three defences, however (including a famous bout with Frank Bruno), Lewis was surprisingly beaten by Oliver McCall in 1994 and he made the momentous decision to replace coach Pepe Correa with Emanuel Steward.
Boxing commentator Jim Lampley declares this a turning point and camp regulars Egerton Marcus and Harold Knight concur, as he tweaked Lewis's technique and made the jab his trademark shot. With Mike Tyson fighting shy of a match, Lewis regained his title following a strange bout with an emotional Oliver McCall. He was then robbed by the judges in a controversial drawn decision against an out-fought Evander Holyfield. But he unified the IBF, WBA, IBO and WBC belts by winning an enforced rematch and the undisputed world champion ended 1995 as the BBC Sports Personality of the Year.
Despite frequently having to fight flamboyant American promoter Don King outside the ring, Lewis had amassed the WBC, IBO and IBF belts by the time he fought Hasim Rahman in South Africa in April 2001. Having bounced back from a shock defeat, Lewis finally persuaded Tyson to front up and he successfully defended his title. Despite losing crowns by refusing to fight mandatory challengers in 2000 and 2002, Lewis was declared the best heavyweight of all time by former champion George Foreman and he sealed his legacy by seeing off Ukraininian challenger Vitali Klitschko and retiring as the champ in February 2004.
By this time, Lewis had married Violet Chang and they now live with their three children in a mansion overlooking Montego Bay. Little is said about his activities in the 16 years since he quit the fight game, but Lewis has striven to help the underprivileged and has remained a fine ambassador for his sport. Yet, for all his geniality and decency, he lacks the profile of greats like Ali and Foreman and such contemporaries as Holyfield and Tyson, who is now a close friend and spoke movingly at a Friar's Club Roast. But Lazes and Koch deserve credit for reminding us of the enormity of Lewis's achievement and the loyalty that he always showed to those in his corner.
Editor Sam Eilertsen strings the archive footage slickly enough. But this is very much a formulaic clips`n'quips documentary, with the co-directors being heavily reliant on talking-head interviews. It might have been nice to have heard from the odd detractor and doubter, as well as the odd British boxing correspondent, as Lewis did fight under the Union Jack during his heyday. However, the point here is to show this man of the world in the best possible light. Hence, the extended segment about Kellie Maloney's 2014 gender reassignment, although this is also a plug for Lazes's forthcoming documentary about the sixtysomething Londoner.